Interview with Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff

AMELIE GR. DARRELMANN/KubaParis
You’ve studied together at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York. Today you both live and work in Berlin. When did you decide to work together as a duo?

CALLA HENKEL & MAX PITEGOFF
We began working together when we were students, mostly on performance work, which lends itself readily to collaboration. There was never a clear point when we decided to work together. Instead, a shared language developed naturally along with similar sets of concerns and politics. We’ve learned how to trust each other’s intuitions and are able to be brutally honest with each other, and at this point we are perversely attuned to each other and try to contradict one another whenever possible. Our process is always dialectical, something which is easy and necessary with performance but less so with a medium like photography, which can lead to a productive moment of confusion or friction. Maybe like a gayer Bernd and Hilla Becher, in which the performativity of taking a photograph is just as important as the photograph itself.

AMELIE
In 2014 you’ve designed tiled ashlars that look like benches for the project 25/25/25 in the Museum Morsbroich. The sculptures allured the visitors to use them. The social aspect, how visitors sit next to each other, how they observe, how they chat, was at the forefront.
Now the next invitation of a museum follows. The exhibition project „Transparenzen“ of the Bielefelder Kunstverein and the Kunstverein Nürnberg, which is built in two part and two way – on the topic of the ambivalence of a new visibility, it exposes the desire for more transparency in politics, economy and communication, but also the loss of privacy by the absolute availability of information. The Bielefelder Kunstverein opens it doors on November 6th, 2015 and the Kunstverein Nürnberg on November 20th, 2015. What did you plan for the double exhibition and how do you link both of your artistic contributions in both museums to one and another?

CALLA/MAX
In Bielefeld we are showing a reconfiguration of a series of photographs from 2013, in which we asked artist-friends to participate in a lazy audit of their production receipts over coffee or a meal. The photographs expose certain unremarkable aspects of being an artist while participating in an economy of gossip, or gossip about economies, as the viewer is able to read the texts on the receipts in the photographs.

In Nürenberg, we are showing work that also attempts to make visible certain economic realities of working as an artist, though pushes out to broader questions about an individual’s relationship to an institution. We are showing a photograph we took in 2010 while we were students at Cooper Union, then still tuition-free (a rarity in the US, where students have to pay an average of around $20,000 per year for university), in the school’s then-brand-new New Academic Building. The building was designed by Thom Mayne and ultimately became a symbol of the schools financial mismanagement, corrupt administration, and eventual turn toward tuition. Our photograph shows the buildings most conspicuous feature: windows covered in perforated metal, which despite housing some of the school’s painting studios, allow in a limited amount of sunlight while also being a cheap metaphor for the slick costume of the new regime and the lack of transparency within the institution itself.

Three new photographs, taken recently at Cooper Union, show texts written by a student/alumni activist group called Nonstop Cooper whose collective goal is to promote a culture of openness at the school, and to figure out a model for free tuition. Their concerns are ultimately bigger than Cooper; they are aimed at a higher education system built on student debt as well as questioning how one can work within and around an institution to effect positive change. The photographs show texts that were painted on the windows of a storefront space at Cooper in which they were given a month-long residency. For whatever reasons related to New York real estate speculation they weren’t allowed to stay the whole month, but their texts remain on the windows as the space sits empty. The texts represent an important and complicated moment in which their political concerns are brought to the same level as their aesthetic concerns, in which a call for transparency and undoing of corruption also becomes a call for pleasure, for joy, for something less graspable.

AMELIE
Just now I’ve read the book „The Circle“ by Dave Eggers. The focus lies on a powerful Internet company, which generates more and more social control by extensive transparency and surveillance. With the social media concept „TruYou“ the company Circle has developed an account, an identity, a password, and a paying system for each person. After reading this book I’ve questioned my interaction with the Internet and social media and considered it all new again. How do you deal with this topic of visibility in private life and how did it influence your artistic development and your work?

CALLA/MAX
We talk a lot about representation in the face of a perceived audience. At New Theater we wrote and staged collaborative plays in which most people on stage were amateurs, so each individual performance had a sort of built in reconciliation between the actor and the audience for whom they thought they were performing. At New Theater the audience was smallish, and because we never released documentation there was a fantasy of control. The actor could own their performance in that space and it would end and begin as they wanted. The type of trust between audience and performer is built on mutual representation — everyone knows what’s being consumed, which is something like the opposite of what you’re talking about.

So much of a practice gets wound up in the identity of the artist, beginning with the fact that it’s a business that rolls on top of your name. We draw so much of our work from our personal lives and the people who surround us, and the theater relied on a lot of emotions and negotiations between them.

AMELIE
We do all remember the era of the Times Bar. A temporary art room/bar near Hermannplatz in the rooms of a former travel agency. Together with the American artist Lindsay Lawson you’ve created an open space of exchange and encounter. Each and every week an artist was invited to present her works behind the bar made of tiles, designed by Henkel and Pitegoff. Among works by Simon Denny, Dan Rees and others, the so-called Hanging by Skye Chamberlain stuck in our memory. A big screen (Times painting, 2012) that portraits the bar with its patrons. A contemporary document of art history and its protagonists. Constantly recurring visitors. Sort of a self-staging of the guests, the performance of the barkeepers, procedures as is usual revealed parallels to theatre. You were inspired by the goings-on at the bar and after its closing you’ve founded the New Theater as a new platform of testing. With what kind of projects will you surprise us next?

CALLA/MAX

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-13 um 09.13.23

Transparenzen, Ausstellungsansicht, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Foto: Philipp Ottendörfer, © Bielefelder Kunstverein 2015

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-13 um 09.13.33

Transparenzen, Ausstellungsansicht, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Foto: Philipp Ottendörfer, © Bielefelder Kunstverein 2015

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-13 um 09.13.43

Transparenzen, Ausstellungsansicht, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Foto: Philipp Ottendörfer, © Bielefelder Kunstverein 2015

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-13 um 09.13.49

Transparenzen, Ausstellungsansicht, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Foto: Philipp Ottendörfer, © Bielefelder Kunstverein 2015

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-13 um 09.13.56

Transparenzen, Ausstellungsansicht, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Foto: Philipp Ottendörfer, © Bielefelder Kunstverein 2015

Bildschirmfoto 2015-10-22 um 10.39.21

Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, Marlie, Berlin, Spring, 2013, Digitaler Archivdruck 100 x 82 cm, Courtesy die KünstlerInnen und Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-09 um 08.09.05

Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, NAB (window), 2010/2015
, Courtesy the KünstlerInnen und Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin

Bielefelder Kunstverein
TRANSPARENZEN
ZUR AMBIVALENZ EINER NEUEN SICHTBARKEIT
07. NOVEMBER 2015 – 17. JANUAR 2016

Images of the exhibition will follow!